Remember Lady Gaga’s 2010 Alejandro video? How about the Equinox breastfeeding campaign or Kendall Jenner’s nude curve-static Love Magazine spread? The creative genius responsible for these is Steven Klein who has been revealing the twisted side of fashion and celebrity photography since 1985. His dark and emotionally isolating images have infiltrated the new fashion’s vernacular.
Gone are the days when fashion photography was merely about the beautiful clothes and of-the-moment imagination. Just like the debatable fashion week transformation, the fashion industry is questioning its tradition and conventional wisdom. It’s hard to find taboos in fashion these days. What used to be scandalous is the new normal.
“The thing that gets frustrating about fashion is that as a photographer you always want to grab on to something that reflects what’s happening in the world, what’s in the street,” said Klein to the New York Magazine. “You don’t want to just fabricate these dream lives of these idealistic Barbie dolls that don’t even exist anymore.”
If Man Ray, Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton were known for setting the tone for provocative fashion photography, and Terry Richardson for setting the bar of what is trashy, then Klein’s tangible sexual themes provide the right mood for today’s fashion bawdiness.
Klein regularly collaborates with Condé Nast and international publications, including Vogue, L’Uomo Vogue, W, and i-D. Klein also continues to shoot for high-end advertising campaigns such as Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein, Alexander Wang, D-squared, and most recently, Nars.
Part of his success is his ability to portray celebrities without letting their personas get in a way of how he interprets them. He strips the most iconic pop figures from their fame and injects his own vision and concept. With Madonna’s Unbound X-static photo-shoot, he set clothes on fire and made her crawl and run around like a crazy circus queen. With Brad Pitt, the disturbingly good-looking actor was purposely portrayed facedown on a concrete floor, revealing his half naked ass. With Kylie Jenner, Klein put the youngest Kardashian sister in a wheelchair, wearing patent leather corset, motionless like a sex doll. The pretty-smiley-retouched magazine covers don’t exist in Klein’s world.
Klein realizes not everyone get the shocking nature of his photographs to New York Magazine: “So I got a call from my agent saying, you know, ‘I spoke to such and such editor, and a lot of people think these ads are kind of vulgar, and you’re going to get a lot of people afraid to work with you,’ … The funny thing is, I put these pictures out there with only good intentions, in a neutral way, but I find that what happens is that people react based on their fears and desires.”
Many of his recurring themes — nudity, bondage, and implied violence — are simply the symbols of our humanity. That’s why he is arguably one of the most prominent photographers today. He captivates the fashion world with his surprisingly self-aware pictures that are surreal, liberating, and at times gruesome. (MT)
Business of Fashion. “Steven Klein Biography.” BOF, 2015. Web.
Dumenco, Simon. “Fashion Photographer Seeks Models/Celebrities for a Little Rough Play.” New York Magazine, 2016. Web.